Magazine

Women & Power

10 of Massachusetts’ top women executives share their tips for success

Leaders from the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts let us in on some wisdom that’s helped them on their career paths.

> KATE WALSH

Kate Walsh

President and CEO / Boston Medical Center Health System

How important is perseverance for success in the workplace?

I always joke, “ ‘No’ is a good place to start.” The best leaders are the ones who really believe in what they’re doing, whether it’s a clinical chief who felt strongly about a certain program or one of our nursing directors who knew we had to do something better and persisted until it got done.

What workplace setback has taught you the most?

I hate to sound like my mother, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In my early days here, our organization was in deep financial distress. It required difficult choices. It helped us find our true commitment to who we are and who we serve. I think we emerged with a newfound focus on our mission.

Any advice for women who “leaned out” and now are facing resistance getting back into the workforce?

It is a job to get a job, particularly if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, and you need to treat it that way. Go someplace and start making phone calls from 9 a.m. until 5 at night. Network, show up to events where you might run into leaders in the field. I’ve seen women who’ve been enormously successful with [reentering or changing] careers because they took it seriously.

RELATED: Find out which companies landed on the 2018 list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts.

Is it ever too late to have an Act 2 in one’s career?

Advertisement

We should be constantly learning and evolving in a job. I feel like I’ve had multiple acts in this job alone — every two years, the job is different. When I started, I was internally and operationally focused; now, I’m out and about more than I was, chairing teaching hospitals and [bringing] back learnings from other environments.

What would your personal Act 2 be?

R&B backup singer.

What’s your best strategy for persuading others to your point of view?

My go-to strategy is humor — I think I’m funny. I also try to have a grasp of details; I get to generalizations through specifics. I often use analogies that make sure I’m understanding what that person on the other side of table is trying to convey.

What’s on your long-term to-do list — and what’s stopping you from getting it done?

I’d love to be fluent in another language. I think I know Spanish, but I end up mangling it. What’s stopping me is, I’d rather listen to my Spotify playlist and sing along.

> LIZANNE KINDLER

CEO / Talbots

Lizanne Kindler
Lizanne Kindler

How important is perseverance for success in the workplace?

Having that conviction and backbone is really important. But also, there is a point where you have to acknowledge the situation you are in, whether you like it or not. Even though you have perseverance, it doesn’t always mean that things work out. Every single one of us has to come to work every day and love and believe in what we’re doing. If you lose that faith, then you can [conclude] this is not right for me.  

What’s your best strategy for persuading others to your point of view?

Advertisement

I always think of the classic phrase “know your audience” — that informs your strategy. Personally, I think a good mix of “EQ” [emotional quotient] and “IQ” [intelligence quotient] is important; I use both data and context. It can be intuition, a little bit of history, a little bit of vision, but substantiated with IQ and data. I tend to blend the two.  

> SUSIE MULDER

CEO / Nic+Zoe

Susie Mulder

Any advice for women who “leaned out” and now face resistance getting back into the workforce?

I would hire a busy working mom any day, as she’s clearly figured out how to multitask, manage competing priorities, and get stuff done. We recently hired a woman into a senior position who works part time to accommodate child-care responsibilities, and she is far superior to anyone we could have found full time. She’s a great role model for women and a great reminder to keep our meetings focused and our decision making direct.  

What’s on your long-term to-do list — and what’s stopping you from getting it done?

Give a TED talk, finally learn to play guitar, and take my kids to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Time is always a factor.  

> TRACEY ZHEN

President / Zipcar

Tracey Zhen

How important is perseverance for success in the workplace?

It’s what keeps you driving forward when you’re out of gas. I’m a subscriber to Carol Dweck’s “growth mind-set” philosophy. Those with a fixed mind-set are resigned to what they’re given; those with a growth mind-set view challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles. If you take a growth mind-set, you’re more likely to persist than [to] feel defeated.  

What workplace setback taught you the most?

At my first startup, within 18 months, we went from super successful to shutting it down. Everyone talks about “fail fast” in startup life. For me, it was hard; it felt like a personal failure. In retrospect, it taught me how to be scrappy, flexible, and resourceful — things I have used to become a better leader.  

> RITA M. GARDNER

President and CEO / Melmark

Rita M. Gardner

Any advice for women who “leaned out” and now face resistance getting back into the workforce?

Advertisement

People often lean out to take care of their disabled child or a disabled mom. These individuals chose to put themselves second, because they’re committed to a broader good. Workplaces miss a huge opportunity of someone who had commitment, mission, an ability to balance. Because they’re not grinding through [the] day, they might be more able to see fresh ideas. We all lose when we don’t give each other choices.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

> MARTHA SULLIVAN

President and CEO / Sensata Technologies

Martha Sullivan

What’s your best strategy for persuading others to your point of view?

I am a believer in Aristotle; he talked about ethos, logos, and pathos: bringing people together to align on the problem and have an open debate; using logic and facts; and creating a vision to inspire people.  

Any advice for women who “leaned out” and now face resistance getting back into the workforce?

You may be up against people who have had continuous work experience, but don’t take for granted that you can’t get the role. My mom graduated with a degree in chemistry, worked a short time, then got married and had seven kids. She went back to work as our town chemist at age 50, after being out of the workforce for well over 20 years.  

> LAUREN SANCHEZ GILBERT

Lauren Sanchez Gilbert

CEO / BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life)

How important is perseverance for success in the workplace?

Grit is essential, especially for women and people of color, because you’re going to be facing setbacks and disappointments, and you’ll find out they’re not necessarily because of your skill set. But that alone isn’t going to get you through. You have to pair that with strategy and a clear understanding of your goals, or all the grit in the world is not going to get you to your finish line.  

What’s your best strategy for persuading others to your point of view?

Passion paired with really good data. That’s a great winning combination. If you don’t really, truly believe in what you’re pushing for, it’s going to be sussed out very quickly. But having passion alone is not enough — you need to have good data, proof, and evidence that what you’re pushing for is going to get you to the outcome you’re seeking. 

> AMY LATIMER

Amy Latimer

President / TD Garden

What workplace setback taught you the most?

Hiring the wrong person for a position — it changed what I looked for in a candidate. People could have all the right skill sets, but if they don’t fit into the organizational culture, they’re not going to be successful and it’s not good for your team. Of course I want relevant experience, but I am much more about culture first. To me, that is the most important piece.

What’s on your long-term to-do list — and what’s stopping you from getting it done?

I took a week and went to Rwanda last year. There’s never a good time to do this, but taking that pause, going to see a different culture — those experiences change you for the better. Making time to do that now is a priority for me.  

> HOPE ALDRICH

Hope Aldrich

President and CEO / Eastern Insurance Group

What workplace setback taught you the most?

I had a #MeToo incident 25 years ago. I reported the incident to HR and the chairman of the company. I knew it was the right thing to do and took a chance even though I risked my job. They initiated a full investigation, which confirmed I should be more confident and bold.

> ALEXANDRA K. GLAZIER

President and CEO / New England Donor Services

Is it ever too late to have an Act 2 in your career?

I think I’ve just started my Act 2. I started my career as a lawyer. If you had said six years ago, “You are not going to be working as an attorney anymore,” I would not have believed that. At some point you have to walk through some doors to get somewhere. By doing that, you can surprise yourself. You have to be open, though, to that possibility.  

What’s on your long-term to-do list — and what’s stopping you from getting it done?

Making a lasting impact to improve public health in this country — and nothing is stopping me. This won’t be my last stop.  

Alexandra K. Glazier

Interviews have been edited and condensed. Melissa Schorr is a Globe Magazine contributing editor. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.